The season of Lent begins with Jesus going into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. Well, actually, the scene is "the wilderness", but the wilderness and the desert have a lot in common.
The first time I came to visit my sister here in Arizona was shortly before I would be leaving for Japan, and about a year after she got married and moved away, permanently. I had barely been out of the Midwest before this; soon I would be traveling to a small island in the Far East to teach for three years.
We did a lot of sightseeing in about ten days -- to the ghost town of Tombstone and to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, down to Tucson and across the border into Nogales. We stopped in a town called Florence one day and toured the ruins of Casa Grande. It was exotic to me, this desert landscape where I was stopping to reflect before another, greater adventure.
My favorite place, I think, was the Desert Museum, just outside of Tucson. We spent a long time learning about the history, the geology, the animals of the deserts. The museum not only told us all about the Senora Desert, but about the other deserts of the southwest, and compared them to other deserts throughout the world, deserts much more famous: the Sahara, the Gobi, the Kalahari.
Every desert is different; there are cold deserts and hot deserts, deserts with sand and without. The Sahara's sand looked like oceans; the many small southwestern deserts claim beautiful moutain ranges and exotic animals.
Every desert is different; every wilderness holds its own temptations, unique to the time and the place. Every desert holds its own temptations and its own lessons to be learned: You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone. Do not put the Lord your God to the test. You shall not live by bread alone.
Every desert is different, just as the geography of each of our lives is different. And yet we all walk through the same forty days, from death to life, from despair to hope, from loneliness to community. Because even though the deserts are all different, they all need one thing: water.
Every year in Lent we go into the wilderness. And each wilderness is different, each struggle is different, with different temptations, and different gifts, too.
At the end is water.